Wednesday, March 21, 2012


This is being called a gaffe, but I don't think so:

Top Romney Adviser Says Romney Can Change His Positions After The Primaries: 'It's Almost Like An Etch A Sketch'

... Appearing on CNN this morning, Romney Communications Director Eric Fehrnstrom was asked if he's concerned that Romney may alienate general election voters with some of the hard-right positions he's taken during the primary to appeal to conservatives. Fehrnstrom brushed this concern off:
HOST: Is there a concern that Santorum and Gingrich might force the governor to tack so far to the right it would hurt him with moderate voters in the general election?

FEHRNSTROM: Well, I think you hit a reset button for the fall campaign. Everything changes. It's almost like an Etch A Sketch. You can kind of shake it up and restart all of over again.
This is perfectly timed -- it comes precisely at the moment when Romney has sewn up the Republican nomination. It won't hurt him with Republicans, who are stuck with him; if they want to beat the person they think is the most evil man who ever lived, Barack Obama, he's all they've got.

Now Romney is preparing to finish off Rick Santorum with wins in states where Republicans are more moderate (New York, Connecticut, New Jersey, California). So this won't hurt him much in upcoming primaries -- he'll get plenty of votes sending the message that he's a right-centrist.

But then, after that, he has to win over low-information swing voters. How does he do that? Well, he gets the press to stop talking about him as if he's become one of those wingnut crazies, that's how (even though he has). As Greg Sargent points out, Fehrstrom spoke to a couple of CNN hosts and they didn't bat an eyelash:

Note how casually these remarks were greeted by the panel of commentators, as if his kind of thing is just business as usual. As I and others, such as Steve Benen, have been pointing out, it seems likely that many commentators will forget all about Romney's flirtation with far right positions and grant him the presumption of moderation the second he becomes the nominee. It will be widely accepted that Romney didn't really mean any of the things he said to get through the primary; all that silly stuff was just part of the game. The above foreshadows this perfectly.

Precisely. The press isn't going to treat this as a shameless flip-flop on the part of a candidate who has no core. Insider journalists are cynics -- and, moreover, insider journalists want this to be true, because most of them really, really don't want to confront the possibility that the Republican Party (many of whose members are their friends, dammit!) has gone completely bonkers.

So they'll sell the message that Romney is going to be a Republican in the Eisenhower/Ford/Poppy Bush mode -- no matter what he says, even if he's praising the Paul Ryan budget or threatening to "get rid of" Planned Parenthood funding. Anyone who says that Romney will govern from the far right will be deemed an alarmist by the mainstream press, even if the prediction is based on words Romney has actually uttered. Silly Cassandra! Don't you know he'll just Etch A Sketch all that away?

Me, I think President Romney would be a puppet of crazy teabaggers in Congress, and of the billionaire Koch retreat attendees who own them. I think he'll give us a national version of the right-wing state governments we've had across the country since the 2010 elections. Which makes me a silly alarmist who doesn't know how an Etch A Sketch works, I guess.

(Via Memeorandum. X-posted at Booman Tribune.)


Steve M. said...

No comments again. I don't get it. I thought this would at least get some of you coming in here telling me I'm a pants-wetter or a concern troll. Come on, folks, abuse me!

Danp said...

No disagreements here. But one observation. The media's commentaters don't see pandering/lying as right or wrong. It's just a game strategy. It's mind-boggling that they don't see this comment as a huge error. Somebody should tell them, "people can hear us, you know."

Greg said...

a candidate who has no core.

There are, of course, other ways that this can manifest in a campaign, other than blatant flip-flopping. Cynical realpolitik, the rich press folk can forgive, but arrogant, alienating, robot-y detachment from the electorate? Well, by golly, that effects the Q rating, and we can't have that.

Michael Gee said...

I'm not sure you're right or wrong, Steve, but I do think that this statement plays right into the negative stereotype of Romney as an unprincipled panderer. It may not horrify the CNN nitwits, but it's the stuff Jay Leno monologues are made of.

Erik A. Prince said...

"Well, I think you hit a reset button for the fall campaign. Everything changes. It's almost like an Etch A Sketch. You can kind of shake it up and restart all of over again."

I think I know what he's getting at, though it's dangerous to actually say it out loud. The primaries are all about pandering to the base. Once the base is stuck with Romney for the general election all he has to worry about is keeping the anti-Obama hate stoked enough to ensure they actually vote. After all, once they come out to vote, they will only have one acceptable (to them, anyway) option and that will be whatever name has "(R)" after it.

So in that sense, yes, the general election is a reset. He stops trying to show how gosh-darn conservative he is and returns to the usual "Obama is destroying the country" blather and all the GOP faithful will line up and applaud. It's sad, but true.

Unknown said...

"Anyone who says that Romney will govern from the far right will be deemed an alarmist by the mainstream press"

Even worse. Anyone who tries to hold Romney to his words will be deemed "naive" and an "outsider" by the press.

That person clearly doesnt have the inside knowledge the rest of them, by virtue of their rolling over for the Republicans, do, so is obviously worth ignoring.

Tom Hilton said...

I'll disagree, Steve. Maybe it helps him slightly among the Children of Broder, but let's face it: they don't really matter anymore.

I think it does hurt Romney with the broader electorate, because it reinforces a well-established narrative (that Romney will say or do anything to get elected). If you look at how Romney's negatives have been going up, it's hard to conclude that people are reassured by this narrative. They might be reassured if it were an ideological narrative, but it's a character narrative, and anything that reinforces it hurts him that much more.

Tom Hilton said...

One more thing that's really important to keep in mind here: Romney didn't just pander to the yahoos by adopting their tone (in fact, he wasn't very good at this, which is why it's almost still a race) or with dogwhistles beyond the hearing range of the Washington press corps (also not very good at this); he signed on to specific wingnut policy demands (Cut, Cap, & Balance, e.g.) that will come up in the general and that he can't run away from without massively pissing off the wingnuts who have by now pretty much reconciled themselves to voting for him. If your pandering is all dogwhistle & bluster, it's easy to pivot. When you're reduced to adopting the whole policy agenda, it's much harder to ditch that in the general campaign.

Steve M. said...

a well-established narrative (that Romney will say or do anything to get elected).

See, I'm not sure that is well established, except among the politically well informed.

And I don't really think he's going to abandon any policies -- he's just going to sell them in centrist language. Worked in 2000 for Bush.

Tom Hilton said...

Bush is exactly the counter-example I had in mind, because he didn't have to pander openly to the wingnut base. His opponent was McCain, who was already considered a RINO (bizarrely) by the real wingnuts; there wasn't a serious contender running to his right.

I would agree that the Romney narrative is well-established only among portions of the electorate, but that doesn't exactly help him because it's most established among the people who are most put off by it (Republican primary voters).

Steve M. said...

Though they're also the ones with a zero chance of voting for Obama (and just seeing Obama ads on TV all fall will get the hate cranked up enough to drive them to the polls).

Tom Hilton said...

Zero chance of voting for Obama, but a non-trivial chance (IMO) of staying home. Indices of intra-party disaffection are much higher this year than they've been for Republicans in a very long time (since 1992, maybe).

But my point was more that if the right-wing base (or a sizable subset thereof) has bought into the Romney-will-do-or-say-anything narrative, they'll be that much less forgiving if he deviates at all from what they want to hear from him. (And that could include tone as well as content.)

Steve M. said...

Yeah. One consequence of this is that Romney needs to double down on the crazy now. I'm not sure how he'll do it, but he really has to delay shaking the Etch A Sketch now.